Inside the Comey and Sessions Hearings
At 7:45 a.m. Washington time, more than two hours before the world will get its first glimpse of James Comey since his firing by President Donald Trump, there is a buzz in the large hearing room where he will appear. TV technicians, photographers, police officers, Capitol workers and others are fine -tuning the details of their respective responsibilities. Remote cameras are test fired, and checked again. Most everything in the room has been set up the afternoon before.
Two young Senate staffers meticulously place pens, note pads and glasses of water on the long curved table at by the seats of the the sixteen Senators on the committee. At t-minus 30 minutes there is near-silence and a new energy fills the space.
I’m fresh here, having worked on Capitol Hill for only a couple of weeks, photographing the whirl-wind of activity as the three branches of government wage battles through bureaucracy, media and today, though a solemn but unpredictable event. Even among jaded journalists there seems to be a reverence for this moment. A week before, I was in California covering the first game of the NBA Finals and though the volume in the Oracle Arena was 100 times louder, the excitement here is more palpable. No one is sure what the former FBI director will say.
The 30 or so photographers - culled days ago from the long list of those credentialed for Congress - have staked out spots along a line of tape laid in a semi-perimeter four feet from the desk where Comey will sit. We wait there, occasionally peeling away to photograph the Senators up-close as they stroll in and greet each other.
Just after 10 o’clock there is a murmur, then the room goes silent as the 6-foot-8 Comey enters. In the pack you hear nothing but the motor drives of the cameras. This may be history but now I am thinking only about proper camera exposure, focus, composition and mostly about finding a clear view.
After shaking hands with the two committee chairmen, Comey immediately sits down. He is expressionless, motionless and stares straight ahead with a Zen-like calm. A half a minute or so later the gavel clacks down and our time around the desk is up.
With that sound, the pack of semi-feral photojournalists, competitive but pleasantly collegial, obediently retreats to the pre-arranged spots in front of the Senators where we will sit on the carpet, shoulder to shoulder, for the the next couple of hours. We focus on every gesture of the hands and nuanced look in the eye. We vary the composition and angles to the extent we can, sometimes shooting tight, sometimes wide. Periodically, a photographer will crawl on hands and knees and head out of the “well,” as it’s called, to transmit pictures and to try other views from special cutout decks around the room.
The challenge is to make photographs that rise to the level of the event. It’s an impossible task in my view, but the pleasure of working here goes beyond creating images, it’s about having a front row seat to such significant and dramatic events.
On days when there are no major hearings scheduled, you still might see the Secretary of State or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff up on the Hill testifying before another committee. This is the more normal routine of Washington when the various branches of government intersect. Some pictures of those activities follow.
A version of the article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 16, 2017. You can see that here.